San Diego is at the heart of much of the world’s best research about developing earthquake resilient buildings.

The University of California, San Diego, Jacobs School of Engineering conducts some of the most noteworthy studies available on the damaging effects of earthquakes on buildings using one of the world’s largest shake tables — a massive platform that simulates the motion of seismic waves to test the stability of structures built upon it.

Video footage of the university’s tests on soft-story buildings frequently results in multi-story structures toppling with the same dramatic impact as scenes in a Hollywood blockbuster.

But more important are the tests in which nothing is damaged.

In fact, research done at the school supports the effectiveness of seismic retrofits in protecting buildings and the people inside them.

“Designing buildings that are safe, even during large earthquakes is hugely important,” Professor Shiling Pei is quoted on the university website. “We are doing that, and we are going further. We are working to minimize the amount of time buildings are out of service after large earthquakes.”

The research team’s findings have established effective approaches to earthquake retrofits on a variety of vulnerable buildings, but most notably on wood-framed, soft-story buildings with tuck-under parking on the ground floor and dwelling units above.

Cost-Benefits of Seismic Retrofits

Researchers at Caltech found that retrofits are cost-effective, too — when expected annualized loss would be reduced by 50 percent or more at a cost that would equal no more than 10 percent of the replacement cost of a building.

FEMA found similar cost benefits in a two-year analysis of seismic retrofit scenarios applied to a variety of building types in locations throughout the United States.

How does that translate into actual dollars? A typical cost-benefit analysis would look like this:

  • Apartment Building Value: $250,000 per unit
  • 10-Unit Apartment Building: $2.5 million
  • Retrofit Cost (10 units): $75,000
  • Percentage of Value: 3%

According to the calculations by Caltech and FEMA, the retrofit would present an overall cost benefit if the percentage of value is 10% or less. In this very real example, the number is much smaller, meaning the cost benefit is much larger.

Retrofits make good business sense, according to these figures. And, they are good for an entire community as well. The National Institute of Building Sciences in its seminal report, Mitigation Saves, estimates that for every dollar spent on mitigation, society sees a resilience benefit of four dollars or more.

The first step towards achieving resiliency is to identify buildings that are vulnerable to damage in an earthquake. Is yours one of them?

If you think your building is at risk and want to protect your building, assets and tenants, contact Optimum Seismic today at (833)978-7664 or visit for a free structural engineering evaluation.